Archive for the ‘Editorials’ Category

Maya Angelou disappointed in Common’s lyrics on his new album.

While the whole world is buzzing over Common’s new release The Dreamer, The Believer, collaborator and poetry legend Maya Angelou isn’t too happy with the result. Angelou, who recites a poem on the track The Dreamer, wags her finger at Common and is disappointed in his word choice on the track.

She tells the NY Post:

“I had no idea that Common was using the piece we had done together on [a track] in which he also used the ‘N’ word numerous times. I’m surprised and disappointed. I don’t know why he chose to do that. I had never heard him use that [word] before. I admired him so because he wasn’t singing the line of least resistance.”

Common was quick to reply with:

“I told her what ‘The Dreamer’ was about and what I wanted to get across to people. I wanted young people to hear this and feel like they could really accomplish their dreams.”

It seems to me that Common used the term, but not in a harmful way. He intended the track to be a meaningful piece for young people, and may have tried to connect to young folks by using some of the lingo that comes with the territory.

Nonetheless, they both remain two poetic masters and both contributed to a fantastic album.

You be the judge and check out the album that dropped December 20th!


A Clash of Cultures: The Mixed Mindset of the Recording Industry.

In 2007, on a cold January night a SWAT team seized the New York apartment and studio of Tyree “DJ Drama” Simmons, and seized hundreds of CD’s, software, and computer equipment. Authorities subsequently arrested Simmons and held him on racketeering charges with a $10,000 bail.

The bust was conducting by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and was coordinated due to Simmons massive distribution of his underground mix tapes.

Simmons is a highly revered DJ in the hip-hop scene and shot to stardom in the past  two decades due to his famous tapes that include both well known musicians as well as up and comers. However, this is no tale of an infamous music pirate–you probably have come across some of Simmons work before knowingly or unknowingly, as he’s pretty well known.

The interesting angle to this story is the fact that Simmons mix tapes have been such a staple in the hip-hop community that major labels have been funding Simmons work for years in hopes that his tapes can help garner publicity for their rising new artists. A few artists that attribute their stardom to Simmons mix tapes include, T.I., Chingy, 50 Cent and even hip-hop mogul, Sean “Diddy” Combs.

So, in this scenario, we have major record labels such as Bad Boy (Universal Music) and Def Jam (Warner Music) funding Simmons mix tapes, but in the same breath, we have the RIAA arresting Simmons on racketeering charges for simply doing what the major labels have been funding him to do.

So, what is the issue here? Why is the industry seemingly so schizophrenic? Is this a simple case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, or is this a more in-depth issue?

Another example of the mixed mindset of the industry is the widely seen success of sample based music and its trends.

For instance, the technique and sub-genre “Mash Up” has become so popular that DJ/Mash Up Artist Danger Mouse released a mash up of both The Beatles “The White Album” and Jay Z’s “The Black Album” to create “The Gray Album”.

Danger Mouse’s work met critical acclaim to the point where Rolling Stone Magazine named it “one of the best albums of the decade.” However, in a twist of irony, due to copyright restrictions the album was never released for commercial profit, and even its free streams were met with hostility from the RIAA and major record labels and publishers.

My final quip that showcases the mixed mindset of the industry is the mass popularity of other sample based artists that can never release their work. For instance, dub step and electronic artists such as Pretty Lights and Skrillex attract hundreds of thousands of people to their concerts, though, due to copyright law, they can never release their work commercially despite their popularity.

In no way am I stating that I am against copyright law, I am simply stating that legislation has yet to meet up with the technological innovations of our generation. We are living in a time where major labels fund mix tapes and then turn around and prosecute their producer. We are living in an era where artists can pack out stadiums but can never release their work commercially. We are abiding in a time where an industry leader such as Rolling Stone  can deem an album “one of the best of the decade”, but if it were to be released, the artist would be sued and fined.

However, the most awful thing is that if their work was to be released (illegally) it wouldn’t be seen as an artistic endeavor–it would be degraded by the RIAA as piracy and theft.

The solution to this issue is far beyond the scope of this article. However, I believe that we can better understand this “industry schizophrenia” if we explore the clash in cultures of our current generation with the generations that have come before it.

Current Copyright legislation was founded in 1976, however, most of the current issues we see are based upon technological innovations that stemmed with the rise of the internet, circa 1993. So, it becomes obvious how Copyright law can lag behind when it comes to current issues that have stemmed from the internet and recent technology.

However, the clash in culture doesn’t come from the technology itself–the clash actually stems from how the Internet has completely re-written the way information is approached.

Prior to the internet, information was only privy to media outlets such as print, news and radio. If you needed information, you only had a few outlets to choose from. Similarly, if you wanted to share information and you weren’t a broadcaster–you had a very limited audience.

With the surface of the internet, everyone could now be informers, cultivators and even amateur journalists. For the first time, there was no monopoly on media, and now information could freely be shared by anyone. We began to see average Joe bloggers post their views to millions, and we all see it daily with billions of Facebook statuses and Tweets continuously sharing information.

In a similar fashion, the 1990’s also brought rise to P2P file-sharing, and it brought user-friendly mixing software such as Pro-Tools, Audacity and Garageband– so now, not only was the “information monopoly” abandoned, but so was the “music production monopoly”.

Due to this, anyone could now be an artist, a producer, or a DJ.

As time progressed, the current generation grew up with the ability and technology to speak to the masses and they had access to media like no one ever has before.

The current generation is a generation that legal expert Larry Lessig deems, “The Read/Write generation” where the generations before it are deemed the “Read Only” generation.

The Read Only generation, is a generation that is accustomed to there being a fine line between producer and consumer. A generation that is used to listening to a record, a cassette or a CD and not being able to interact with it.

In comparison, the Read/Write generation is a generation that is accustomed to interacting with and adding onto media and entertainment. For instance, adding upon a Wikipedia article is an example of Read/Write culture, compiling a playlist on your Mp3 is Read/Write culture.

However, the most relevant example is taking a song and remixing, taking two tracks and combining them–and taking a piece of work and rearranging it to say something different. That, too, is Read/Write culture.

A relevant story that Lessig tells to teach people about Read Only and Read/Write culture is a story that stems from an incident with legendary composer, John Phillip Sousa.

With the onslaught of phonographs Sousa complained to congress that due to these “talking machines” people would no longer sing songs together, they would no longer compose, he said that the towns used to “flourish” with songs written by its youth. He said folks would take family songs and build upon them and constantly compose and create. Sousa said that these talking machines would put a strangle hold on creativity and we will all soon “lose our vocal chords”.

In a way, Sousa was correct, with the phonograph there was a line created between artist and consumer, for the first time someone held the monopoly on who was a musician and who was not. These phonographs soon became record players, which became cassettes, which became CD’s, and for the first time there was a clear and bold division between artist and non-artist, between producer and observer. There was now a clear cut line between musician and non musician.

As a result of this, millions of vocal chords were truly lost.

The emergence of Read/Write culture through sample based music, mash-ups and DJ culture is a revival of the vocal chords that Sousa spoke so passionately about. Our current generation is simply taking art and remixing to say something differently, composing it differently.

Though, the worst part of this, is that the way the laws are written the current generation cannot deem themselves “artistic” or as “innovators”.

Due to the way the laws are written, the current generation must do their art in private or else they will be deemed “pirates” and “law breakers”.

It’s certainly a shame that artistic conquests can be deemed illegal and unworthy of public consumption simply because the law has failed to catch up with the technological and social advances.

So, to all of you underground artists fighting the good fight–keep it up. Things are the way they are not because of injustice, but due to a musical revolution that you are on the heels of.

The industry has never seen such a rise in it’s history since the establishment of Sousa’s “talking machines” and it’s only a matter of time before the legalities meet up with the technological and social advances. Plus, with the establishment of alternative licenses such as Creative Commons and the massive popularity of electronic and sampled music the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter as we are only becoming more established in this current age of Read/Write culture.


The Rise of The Configurative and Experiential Culture in the Music Industry.

I never really understood the current electro-phenomenon that is dubstep, or as my more pretentious friends would correct me, “Post-Dubstep”, since the genre we hear now is an evolutionary product of years past.

(And I thought that prefixes like “post” and suffixes like “core” were on their way out, I guess I was mistaken. Yes, I’m talking to you post-electronic mathcore, and other nonsensical genre titles!)

Ahem, anyhow, I just could never get into it. To me, dubstep was just a combination of things I have heard before–a bit of techno/electronica with a few other flares built in.

It started to seem just like another trend that folks cling to so that they have a piece of art that they can claim as their own–a certain musical identity in which they can base their personality upon.

Now, clasping towards a musical identity isn’t a bad thing–there still exists die hard punk fans who cling to their roots and so on and so forth, and I am all about the mesh of music and it’s culture. Though to me, dubstep was just another budding fad that will slowly but surely fade out or even transform into something new.

However, it wasn’t until a few friends of mine put on a widely popular local rave that my outlook started to change. The event itself was a whopping success, partially due to the professionalism put into each aspect. One friend is a lighting technician at the Hard Rock Casino and the other friend is a successful local DJ, so they really brought their a-game. Under the bright lights, smoke machines and industrial sized bubble makers–my outlooked switched from outside observer to understander to..hell I’ll admit it, enjoyer.

Though, the phenomenon that is becoming dubstep may seem fairly simple to some–great tunes that include a good atmosphere–but to me it’s actually a bit more complex and it speaks loads about the current state of the industry. The genre really shows us about two particular aspects of the industry: the experiential aspect and the artistic aspect through cultural configuration.

To speak of the artistic aspect of dubstep, we have to talk about sampling. Sampling is the ultimate form of cultural configuration. Sampling gives people the opportunity to take multiple songs and create (configure) them into a new artistic entity. This idea of configuring existing products to create a new one is seen all throughout electronic and dubstep culture. In a similar fashion, we see configuration through the environment too. Dubstep culture takes pieces of techno (lights and rave parties), hip hop (bass beats and even rapping in some cases), rock (rock based samples) and many more to create its own culture. We are now seeing the break out of genres that enable people to create their own environment rather than just something that can be heard. This configuration becomes even more apparent when one gets their hands on the proper mixing software, and realizes that they, too, can take their stab at a decent mash-up or dubstep mix.

Dubstep also reflects the experiential aspect of music today. Everyone knows that nowadays labels and artists seek most of their revenue and promotions through live performances. Dubstep and electronic culture are no different in the way that they promote their live performances as a major part of the dubstep experience.

Dubstep proves to us that music isn’t necessarily about just music anymore–it’s about the environment and experience. Sure dubstep music can be fun just listening to it on your i-pod, however, the music takes on a whole new form when in the right place with the right people at the right time. It promotes the experience.

Now that record sales are dying, we are seeing a rise in genres that really promote an experiential type of culture, rather than just a song. Genres that promote great music, but also a certain environment, a certain feeling, and a certain experience. I would argue that the death of album sales, is becoming the birth of a musical society based upon musical culture and musical experience.

This is brilliance, people. Pure brilliance.

The Tao of MellowHype

I was always intrigued by the Wu-Tang Clan when they cited Kung Fu flicks as their main influence–old black and white films that were horribly dubbed with laughable special effects.

Each member of  The Wu-Tang Clan actually took their name from their favorite Kung Fu movie character, and they also frequently cited different fighting styles within their tracks.

The RZA, leader of Wu-Tang Clan, actually took his love for eastern philosophy a step further and penned The Tao of Wu, a book that combines street smarts with the wisdom of world religions such as Islam and Buddhism

Now, if you think I am about to make the inevitable comparison between Wu-Tang and Odd Future, I’m not. Yes, they are both rap groups and are both known for their outlandish lyrics and behavior. But instead I want to delve further into this topic of Kung Fu culture in hip hop.

Eastern arts such as Kung Fu and Tai Chi believe in “chi” a primordial energy , that when harnessed, it flows out of you. It is a feeling that takes form organically and poetically.

I think the Kung Fu and Hip Hop comparison is far more than just a “cool” novelty.

I feel as if both cultures believe in harnessing an energy found with in us– and when that energy is harnessed just right–art is formed.

Tai Chi and Kung Fu do this by creating graceful movements– while hip hop artists use that energy to form a poetic and passionate product.

My comparison of Odd Future and Wu Tang comes from their Zen-like flow–a rapping technique that comes unrehearsed and is just too smooth to ignore.

Recently, I did a small piece on Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (Odd Future), a “skate rap” group that are taking the music scene by storm. Odd Future has around 11 members, and splits off into various groups–one being MellowHype which consists of members Hodgy Beats and Left Brain. MellowHype recently released their second album BlackenedWhite, and are currently in the studio working on their third piece that’s due out in 2012.

All sub groups of Odd Future, especially MellowHype, have been praised for their lyric heavy rapping style, which comes as a breath of fresh air in a time where auto-tune and lyric weak rap is filling the airwaves.

In BlackenedWhite, MellowHype takes rap back to it’s poetic and angst filled roots.

Rap started as a way to preach about social injustices–but mainstream rap has some how devolved into songs about clubs and rims.

MellowHype  changes the “rap norm” by combining mainstream raps upbeat vibe with the heavy content that can be found in early rap music. Though, most of all, MellowHype’s amazing lyricism, creativity and use of original instrumentation sets them worlds apart from many artists in the rap game right now.

The rapping techniques of Hodgy Beats and Left Brain are unstoppable. As soon as the verse leaves their lips it takes on a world of it’s own. Their lyrics form images–sometimes pleasant while other times disturbing–though they are always effective and each line is packed with passion and drive. Their use of wordplay is some of the best out there right now–as you can see in the attached track Primo from their new album:

“We spit because we’re sick and irrelevant to you relevant
I’m comin’ down but not from my high
I should live in a plane, shit I feel that fly
It’s a bird in the clouds and the sky’s a plain
Nah ho, squash quote, it’s that gal Mary Jane
She wants to retreat from this packed Swisher Sweet
The taste of it is regular, she make the Swisher sweet
From time to time I gotta dish her kief
Cause when she in agreement wanna leave, I let her leaf” 

Once listening to their flow, you’re hooked. After taking time to hear they tracks you begin to “feel” them as well. You sense that the song is energetic–rather than robotic. It’s very genuine and also fun to listen to. 

Of course the Odd Future duo aren’t prophets or spiritual guru’s, but their style is certainly a testament to the creative energy that can be found in rap music today.

Go grab a copy of their album BlackenedWhite today!

Image Courtesy of Sunset In The Rearview

Tribute or Theft?: A Look Into Popular Music Sound A Likes.

Every artist seems to “steal” or “borrow” a little bit of their work.

I mean, it’s hard not to when music is so vast and intricate–everyone is influenced by everyone else–artists take bits and pieces of what they witness and mold it to make it into their own.

However, this isn’t always the case. Their seems to be a fine line between homage’ and just down right theft. That fine line has always interested me.

When thinking on this, topics such as sampling come to mind–a technique mainly used in hip hop where the vocals are unique but the instrumental is taken from an entirely different song.

This technique can be done well, such as the case with Kanye West, whose samples contain his own signature touch such as pitched and sped vocals and it can also be done poorly –such as the case with Vanilla Ice which we’ll touch on later in this article.

So what makes a song unique? And where is that line between copyright infringement and tribute? In this article we will look at some of the better known “sound alikes” out there today.

George Harrison vs. The Chiffons

The Chiffons, a du wop group from the 1960’s, released one of their more popular songs, He’s So Fine, in 1963. The track climbed the charts and stayed on the Billboard Top 100 four consecutive weeks. The all girl group who went head to head with acts such as The Supremes held their water during that era and met much success throughout the 60’s.

Seven years later, George Harrison was emerging back on to the music scene fresh from his journey into Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna!).

Upon his return, Harrison released the album All Things Must Pass and one of the most notable songs on the album was a track entitled My Sweet Lord, a love song dedicated to Sri Krishna, whom Harrison was a strong devotee.

Though something occurred that shook things up for “the quiet one”of the fab four. The Chiffons Label, Bright Tunes Music, noticed a striking similarity in My Sweet Lord, and that  similarity was that it was almost the complete same song as He’s So Fine!

This dispute led to a lengthy law suit that lasted over 10 years, where Harrison had one of the most memorable defenses to date used in a copyright case: Subconscious infringement.

Harrison’s legal team claimed that Harrison did not intentionally steal the song–and the striking similarities actually came from Harrison hearing the track and then subsequently forgetting that he had heard it. The tune was stored in his subconscious so when he wrote My Sweet Lord he thought it was his original work –but his “creativity” was actually just a subconscious rendering of He’s So Fine that he had heard a decade ago.

Although it sounds trippy, it’s an interesting argument that’s also been reported in other cases too. I remember taking a fiction course a few years ago and my teacher told stories of how new writers would bring in stories that would contain bits and pieces that were very similar to published novels that they have read. He claimed that this was natural and that sometimes your brain will trick you into thinking you’re writing something new when you’re really just reaching into your memory. He urged us to be careful that we aren’t falling into that trap. The same trap Harrison claimed to have fell into.

However, when all was said in done–Harrison lost the case but ended up buying the rights to He’s So Fine which cost him $587,000.

This is one of my favorite cases for a few reasons.

I find the argument of subconcious infringement fascinating and it speaks multitudes about how our minds work–but also–both songs are great in their own right. My Sweet Lord contains beautiful lyrics, a guitar riff from Eric Clapton and a beautiful choral style backing vocal. He’s So Fine is also a great tune, one that is the epitome of du-wop music that reigned supreme in the 1960’s.

Above are the two tracks meshed together so you can hear them played over one another. The similarities are unreal and they match perfectly! The “hallelujah” of Harrison lines up perfectly with the “doo lang da lang” of The Chiffons. It’s a very eye well..ear.. opening. Take a listen.

Years later John Lennon also weighed in on the case, stating his doubt for the “subconscious infringment argument”, but whatever the case, I am very glad that both of these musicians penned such great pieces.

“He must have known, you know. He’s smarter than that. It’s irrelevant, actually—only on a monetary level does it matter. He could have changed a couple of bars in that song and nobody could ever have touched him, but he just let it go and paid the price. Maybe he thought God would just sort of let him off.” -John Lennon, 1980 interview with Playboy Magazine, speaking on Harrison’s subconscious infringement defense.

Fergie vs. JJ Fad

When the track Fergalicious came out in 2006, most listeners were too busy trying to decipher the cryptic messages found within the song (we still aren’t sure what exactly fergalicious means) than to actually notice that the song was a blatant rip off of 80’s rap group JJ Fad and their track Super Sonic.

Fergie and The Black Eyed Peas didn’t mean to claim any authorship and used the track as a sample–but no royalties were ever given to the authors of Super Sonic. The unpaid royalties led to a lawsuit, from what I believe, has yet to go to court.

The Arabian Prince, author of the song, NWA producer and apparent royal bad ass, has claimed that Fergie’s label has denied payment on numerous occasions.

Once listening to the song the “fine line” we spoke about earlier comes back up. If you listen to the track not much is changed at all–even the rhythm of the lyrics are the exact same. (listen above!)

Usually when one samples a song they at least add their own flavor to it–and in this case her flavor was repeating the word “fergalicious” over and over again. Which unfortunately isn’t even enough be entertaining as it is legal.

Though, I must admit the song was a great sample to use. J.J Fad (Just Jammin’ Fresh And Def) was an all girl group whose style opened doors for groups such as Salt n Peppa and early TLC.

Super Sonic was a throwback to the days of Sugar Hill Gang and other old school rap greats. The song incorporates a laid back groove with a slow styled rap vocal. I can see the appeal in sampling this classic track–but I just think more could have came out of it if  if the lyrics weren’t a blatant knock off.

Vanilla Ice vs. Queen

We all have done it.

We turn on the radio and hear the signature bass line and for a few bars we aren’t sure if Queen’s Under Pressure or Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby is about to play.

This is also a textbook case of copyright infringement.

To prove infringment the alleged infringer must have had two things:

1) Access to the work that’s claimed to be copied.

2) The tracks must contain substantial similarity.

That knowledge alone made Vanilla Ice somewhat of a laughing stock when he gave interviews regarding his hit Ice, Ice, Baby.

Ice claimed that he did not owe Queen and David Bowie any money for sampling their legendary song, Under Pressure, because he added a “chh”.

Yes, a “chh”. The “chh” he is reffering to is one solitary cymbal hit–one instance of a closed hi hat in the track. He believes that this one closed hi-hat  added to every 16 bars is enough for him to not have to pay royalties. The one hi-hat doesn’t make it substantial any more.

If this is how copyright law works than everyone get ready for my debut album containing songs such as: Hit The Road, Murphy, Somewhere Under Or Around The Vicinity Of The Rainbow, the funk inspired I Feel Okay, and of course the sure fire hit Purple Fog.

Though, of course, this isn’t how copyright works and Vanilla Ice ended up paying Queen for the sample and started listing the late Queen frontman, Freddie Mercury, as the composer.

He also went on to state that the infamous “chh” quote was him trying to be humorous–but something about him makes me doubts that.

Granted, both songs have a strong legacy. Under Pressure is considered to be one of the best collaborations of all time–combining the legendary David Bowie with the equally  legendary Freddie Mercury. While Ice, Ice, Baby–although not as prestigious, was the first hip hop song to cross over into the pop charts and is one of the more memorable songs of the last 20 years.

I couldn’t find how much Queen was paid and if they even asked for money–or if it was done out of respect by Ice. I would assume the Queen catalog would be huge money for the rights–hundreds of thousands.

If Vanilla Ice did have to pay big bucks to sample the Queen catalog–it would explain why he was last seen on D-List shows such as The Surreal Life and Dancing On Ice.

Too harsh?

Nonetheless, I’ve included an interesting mash up of the two tracks to show the similarities. It was actually kind of cool piecing them together and it’s a fun listen, if anything.

Chuck Berry vs. The Beach Boys

Chuck Berry was one of the innovators of early rock and roll music. His guitar playing combined elements of shout blues, jazz and gospel–a style that would ultimately turn into rock and roll. Berry has inspired everyone from the Beatles to Angus Young of AC/DC.. and apparently Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, too.

In 1958 Berry released a track entitled Sweet Little Sixteen. The song is about a young lady, referred to only as sweet little sixteen, and how men from all over the world want to come and dance with her.

Men from Boston, Pittsburgh P.A., in the heart of Texas, to the ‘frisco Bay..and so forth.

A few years later, in 1963, The Beach Boys came out with a song entitled Surfin’ USA. The song was about some guys that loved to surf. They loved to surf all over the country. They loved to surf in Del Mar, Manhattan, the Doheny Way, they loved to surf in Huntington, Californi-a, and just all over the place.

Yes, even the content of the songs were taken from one another. I mean, Pittsburgh, P.A … Californi-A. It’s like they weren’t even trying to be crafty at this point. Brian Wilson, writer of the song, claimed that the song wasn’t “stolen” but “inspired by”. Although it was “inspired by” Berry, Wilson claimed and wanted sole authorship.

Behind Wilsons back, his father and manager Murry Wilson, actually went and claimed Berry as the copyright owner without ever telling Wilson.

For 25 years Berry received authorship while Wilson did not–this caused a huge controversy, and now they are both listed as composers for the tune.

However, I feel as if it was blatant infringement even down to the use of listing off cities, and this may have been the motive behind Murry Wilson not wanting his son to receive royalties for the track.

Listen to them side by side above!

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article there seems to be numerous trends in the industry that can easily overlap when it comes to song writing–though sometimes it can a tribute –but other times it can just appear to be straight up theft. You be the judge.

Thank you for your views!

Jazz Great: Captain John Handy


I was a bit taken a back by the crowd as I walked into the Historical Society building to listen to a lecture on hometown jazz legend Captain Jack Handy. A man that was also my grandmothers neighbor–she was young but from what she remembers she sang his praises, claimed he was a kind man and had memories of him playing saxophone on his porch late at night.

Though, I wasn’t taken a back for bad reasons. I was actually pleased with the large turn out and anxious to learn a thing or two about the cultural and musical heritage of my city.

Handy, born in 1900, was a rising jazz star in the New Orleans music circuit and all over the world. Although, he was not as famous as his counterpart and compadre Louis Armstrong, he was just as influential.

The lecture wasn’t bad but I felt as if something was lacking. The talk was a biography and seemed to only skim the surface–where I was hoping that the lecture would touch on the struggle black artists in the deep south had to overcome to survive as musicians.

I have made my thoughts known in previous posts on the obstacles that other artists had to cross to get to where they are–so I was hoping for a bit more in the lecture. Instead, it seemed as if the speaker was scared to address any form of race. He claimed that Handy wasn’t as famous because he never went to Chicago a place where “more record labels were”.

However, in actuality Chicago was home to jazz clubs such as The Cotton Club, a club that brought together jazz fans of all races , and Chicago was also a city that was far ahead of the curve when it came to segregation. Black artists could flourish there–it had little to do with the number of labels.

At one point in the lecture there was even a list of reasons as to why John Handy isn’t better known today and “Black Man During Segregation” was even listed! But, yet.. he seemed to skip over that one.

So what is it? Is it the un-comfort of it?

I would be a bit hesitant as well–discussing the racist undertones of a mans biography while in the company of  rich older white people who were very much alive during segregation and during the civil rights movements. People who enjoyed the mans music but still– once upon a time did not consider a man of his race their equal.

The reasons as to why I was upset is because I believe that adversity helped to form jazz and blues music.

I believe that struggle and oppression when forced upon people–causes them to bond together to create something of their own. The improvisational stylings found in jazz are nothing more than an inner voice and rhythm becoming formed externally into something that we call music, that we call art.

So even though I left the lecture feeling unfulfilled, I did leave with even more respect for black artists from that era. John Handy passed away in 1972 and was given the first jazz funeral in Mississippi–500 were expected to show up… 5000 arrived.

That fact alone is astonishing–but even more astonishing knowing the hurdles he crossed to get there.


Great Albums: Sam Cooke, Live at The Harlem Square Club (1963)

In a recent post I spoke of Little Richard and the reasons why he was so successful in his career. I made the observation that Richard was performing in a time where segregation was prominent even in the music charts–black performers generally had to work a bit harder to break racial norms. Richard compensated by putting out a product that was wild and innovative. Due to his “struggle” to be known in the industry, you can sense Richards emotion and passion in his early work.

Just as Little Richard is deemed the father of rock and roll, there is this guy by the name of Sam Cooke who is deemed the creator and innovator of soul music.

During the 1960’s it was very common for record labels to find gospel singers and give them a “fast beat r&b style” a style that slowly grew into soul music and roots rock & roll. Cooke was no different–he started off in a gospel group called The Soul Stirrers, but quickly took off as a solo artist. He put out extremely successful tracks such as Twisting The Night Away, Wonderful World, Having A Party and the passion filled Bring It On Home To Me. (Shown above). 

Tragically, Cooke  left the world too soon at the age of 33 after a controversial shooting at a motel–leaving behind a wife and son–but he also left behind a musical legacy and one of the best albums of all time–Live At Harlem Square Club. An album that had made Rolling Stones “100 Best Records of All Time” as well as “500 Albums to Listen to Before you Die.”  The album was made just a year before he was killed, the album serves as a time capsule for Cooke’s life and legacy, but also as a time capsule for music and live performances in the 1960’s.

Immediately a few things inspire me about the album, one being the amazing sound quality for a 1963 live recording–a time where recording techniques were rather simple and tweaking any mistakes was impossible–you only had one take.

Also, I was extremely impressed with the audience–in a lot of ways–the audience makes the album due to being incredibly interactive to the point where it adds to the song.

The crowd shouting and responding to Cooke’s lines and ad libs adds mounds to the performace:

Cooke: “..and as soon as I hear my baby saying hello.”
Crowd: HELLO!

Moments like this give the album a raw, live feeling that is lost in even some modern live albums today.

I attribute the crowd’s enthusiasm to a few things.

One being that performances like this were fairly new, they were exciting! The crowd was genuinely excited to be there listening to Sam Cooke so they sang along loud and proud when Sam asked them too. Another, more importantly, is that the concert was at The Harlem Square Club–an all black club in the 1960’s in the heart of the civil rights movement.

The crowd wasn’t just proud to be there but they were proud that they had a place to call their own in a time of civil unrest. They had a place where they could be themselves, and music to call their own. They weren’t embarrassed to sing and dance, this was a rare time where they could meet together and just let loose.

Cookes singing on this album is phenomenal. As I said before, it was live so it was done in one take with no tweaking–even some of his recorded stuff is slower with added violins and cello–but here he does each song with showmanship and enthusiasm.

He was a tremendous talent, but what makes the songs even more unique are his introductions–his singing and talking over drum rolls and bass lines prior to the songs gives it more of a story feel. His conversing with the crowd beforehand is off the cuff and raw–also his amusing ad libs give each song unique character. You can tell he is having fun.

Things such as:

“And I’ll be carrying a big ole suitcase”  “Can ya’ll just imagine me lugging one of those things around? Look at me! Ha!”

“And I’m sick, so sick.” “But it ain’t that leukemia though, I ain’t sick with that.” 

These lines plus his signature laugh “Ha Ha Ha” that he encoporate in his songs–make them a conversation. Cooke is communicating with the audience rather than singing to them–it’s wonderful.

On the original version the song order is done with perfection.

The performance tells a story–on songs like Cupid  and It’s All Right he tells the crowd what to do if your girl is rumored to be messing around on you–telling the men not to beat up on your woman but to go home and whisper in her ear that it’ll be alright as long as they love you.

On Have Mercy he starts to feel the effects of his run-around girl and is begging someone to have mercy on him during his time of trouble, and then Bring It On Home To Me he tells his woman, “I don’t care who you were with baby, but just bring it to me..bring it on home to me.”

Ultimately the album ends with Having A Party where he tells his audience as the song fades to “remember to have a party where ever you’re going or where ever you’re at.”

Cooke is a master story teller, he builds up his songs and sings them as though he were telling us a story–they have continuity, emotion, and soul. It’s an experience in its own right and words don’t do justice to the feeling of the album. So find it and give it a spin. The music is great and sets the bar for future soul, rock and r&b legends such as James Brown, Stevie Wonder, even Al Green and Marvin Gaye were inspired by Cooke’s music.

Though, Live at Harlem Square Club is one of the most influential albums not solely due to it’s style and innovation–but because of the emotion felt within it. As I mentioned before, during the 1960’s black artists had to over come racially segregated music charts amongst hundreds of other things.

The album is the start of a movement, it’s a bunch of like-minded people in a club enjoying something that they can call their own. Each track oozes with something lost in current music today–creation, freedom and pride–pride that you’re performing and taking part in something that cannot be stolen from you or segregated.

Get into this album, it’s a piece of history.

Image Courtesy of RCA